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Direct Thermal Printing
In direct thermal printing, no ribbon is used. The print head comes in direct contact with a specially treated, heat-sensitive material. The print actually becomes part of the barcode label or tag. The less sensitive the material, the more energy required to print.
Advantages of Direct Thermal Printing:
Disadvantages of Direct Thermal Printing:
Thermal Transfer Printing
Thermal transfer printing requires a barcode ribbon. The ribbon passes between the heated print head and the media (label or tag). The heat of the print head causes the ribbon to release ink, which bonds to the surface of the label or tag face stock.
Advantages of Thermal Transfer Printing:
Disadvantages of Thermal Transfer Printing:
When it comes to choosing the right barcode label or tag for your application, there are many factors that need to be considered. Barcode labels and tags come in a variety of shapes and sizes, face stocks and adhesives, and can be custom made to fit your needs.
Step 1: What type of barcode printer are you using to print the barcode labels?
There are specially coated, heat sensitive face stocks used for direct thermal printing versus thermal transfer printing. There is no ribbon used with direct thermal printing. In thermal transfer printing, however, a high carbon, thermal transfer ribbon is used, which transfers the ink onto the face stock when passed between a print head and the material.
You also need to know whether your printer is a desktop printer or an industrial/tabletop printer. Desktop printers usually take a smaller roll of labels that has a 4" or 5" outer diameter and a 1" core. Industrial printers take a larger roll that has a 8” outer diameter and 3" core.
Step 2: Do you need a barcode label, tag, or ticket?
A barcode label is also called a pressure sensitive label. A pressure sensitive label consists of face stock, adhesive and release liner. The back of the face stock is coated with pressure sensitive adhesive, making this the appropriate choice for labels that will adhere to the surface, rather than be stapled as a ticket or hung as a tag.
A ticket or tag does not have any pressure sensitive adhesive, nor does it have a release liner. A ticket refers to a configuration where there are no hole punches. A tag has a hole from which the tag can be hung. Tag is the generic term for non-adhesive material.
Step 3: What type of label material, or face stock, will fit your application?
Paper is used in a multitude of general purpose applications. There are several advantages to using paper. They are less expensive, have excellent print quality, and they are suitable for indoor applications and a wide variety of surfaces and temperature ranges. However, there are also some disadvantages. Paper will not withstand extreme abrasion, and they are not moisture or chemical resistant.
The other option is to use a synthetic face stock. There is a variety of synthetic face stocks to choose from, such as polypropylene, polyolefin, polyester, polyimide, vinyl, and more. Advantages of using synthetics are: they are moisture, heat, chemical and tear resistant; they are designed for specialty applications; and they are more durable than paper. The down side is that they are more expensive, require higher energy settings and lower print speeds, and more expensive ribbons are required. Each face stock material has special characteristics that make it suitable for particular types of applications.
Step 4: What type of adhesive is needed for your application?
There are many different types of adhesives from which to choose. Which type of adhesive to use will largely depend on your application. Some standard adhesives are permanent, removable, repositionable (also called ultra-removable), freezer-grade, cryogenic, tamper-evident, void, checkerboard, high-tack, high-temp, and patterned.
The most common is permanent. Permanent adhesive is used when the barcode label is intended to remain on the surface and not be removed.
If the label needs to be removed, then you would want removable adhesive. Removable adhesive is meant to be removed and reapplied only once.
Repositionable is what you would use if the barcode label needs to be removed more than once.
Freezer-grade adhesive is used when the barcode label is going on a surface that will then be stored in a low temperature location.
Cryogenic would be used in cryogenic applications involving a deep freezing process, such as in medical labs and hospitals.
Applications requiring a destructible label for security purposes would use tamper-evident, which makes the label disintegrate when someone tries to peel it off.
Void and checkerboard adhesives are also used for security purposes. These leave behind either the word "VOID" or a checkerboard pattern when removed.
High-tack adhesive has a heavy coat weight of adhesive and is used when the barcode label needs to be applied to a rough or textured surface.
High-temp adhesive is ideal for applications such as PCB labeling, steel and automotive labeling, and work in process, where the label will be exposed to temperatures up to 392° F.
Patterned adhesive means a portion of the label is free from adhesive. For example, a barcode label for a ring in a jewelry store.
There are also many types of specialty barcode labels, such as aluminum, opaque, self-laminating (cable labels), piggy-back, retro-reflective and even steel barcode labels.
The key to choosing the right barcode label is to know your application, the surface to be labeled, temperature ranges it will need to withstand, and any chemical or environmental factors. It is also a good idea to get a material sample and test it out before deciding on what will work best for you.